I almost skipped church on Sunday. I really wanted to. I was being lazy, and wanted to stay in bed instead of get up, get ready and get going. I tried to convince myself that it would be fine to skip, to worship at the Church of the Holy Comforter (except that I have quilts, instead) because, after all, I'd been to church pretty regularly lately. Everyone deserves a day off, I reasoned.
I was not convinced.
Eventually, I did get up, get ready and get going, and got there ten minutes late (which, to be fair, is pretty good for me). I wasn't terribly happy about it, but I was there, for whatever reason. I suppose it was reason enough that I couldn't talk myself into any truly good excuses for staying home that day. I like the church I've been attending when I'm in town, for its mission and its heart for Jesus and people (if not so much for its contemporary service. It's well done, mind, but I'm truly a traditionalist at heart.), and I know a few people from my growing-up years who attend there--as well as a few new friends from this return time.
So there I sat, mind not really on the sermon (about eternal life, and actually a pretty good one). I was just letting my eyes wander around, to see who I could see. I hadn't spotted 'my' people on my way in late, so I was sitting on my own, which I don't mind at all. I always hope it'll mean I meet new people, but rarely do people actually speak to me. Not that they're rude-- but never mind; that's another story for another time. As my eyes wandered over the backs of heads, I noticed someone in the front row. Sitting next to a couple my parents' age. With whom I went to church growing up, and was involved in Chrysalis and Emmaus with them and their youngest daughter.
I thought it must be a coincidence. And then she turned her head, and I perked right up as I recognised her for certain-- it was their youngest daughter, a friend of mine who I had not seen in easily a decade! Actually, it's probably been longer than that-- more like fifteen years. I was so excited, and couldn't wait for the service to be over so I could go up and speak with her. I had visited with her parents several times at church, which is always a joy, and had asked after her. But I hadn't expected to actually get a chance to catch up with her!
Then, as I sat there, trying to listen to the sermon and waiting for the end of the service, I started to worry. Maybe I shouldn't go up to her. Maybe I should just leave, and if I ran into her and her family, then fine. Maybe I shouldn't seek her out. Because what if she doesn't remember me? What if she hasn't thought about me at all in those intervening years? What if she's not interested in catching up? What if I like her more than she likes me, and she doesn't care if she sees me or not? What if?
See, I do this to myself a lot. I always worry, when I haven't been in touch with someone or haven't seen them for a long time, even if we've kept in touch. I always worry that it's going to be horribly awkward, that they haven't missed me as much as I've missed them (or at all), and that they might not even really remember me or care that much to be reacquainted, sometimes despite what they might say beforehand. Friends who have moved away say, 'Come visit!' And I say, 'I'll try,' but what I mean is, 'I think you're just being polite and don't really want to see me, so I'll politely agree to try and visit but not work very hard at it, just in case.' Because I would hate to actually show up and have things go badly. I'd rather not go up to my friend for a catch-up after all this time in case it's not what I'd like it to be and instead it is what I'm afraid it will be.
In all these cases, I struggle with the fear of rejection, or at least with the fear of being a non-entity. Even worse than a blatant rejection, I think, would be polite disinterest or a blank nothingness. Would I rather stay alone and keep my memories of the friendship past than risk finding out there's absolute emptiness in the relationship now? Yes, often I think I would.
And yet that never, ever happens. I have never yet had a situation where the person I wanted to see wasn't also delighted to see me. Sometimes it's a little awkward, if we haven't seen each other for a very long time, as we relearn how to be in the same physical space-- but more often than not, it's just like no time has passed at all. And still I'm always surprised that they are as obviously overjoyed to be with me again as I am to be with them. Always.
Why is that? Why do I seem to always forget the evidence of past experiences, of friendships in general, and instead revert to the fear that I am nothing, nobody, not worth remembering or missing? Am I the only one who struggles with this? Or are we all struggling to remember that we are worthy, that people love us, that those we miss are missing us, as well? I think for me, it comes down to what my head knows but my heart forgets. It happens to me not just with human relationships, but in my relationship with God, as well. I know with my brain that God loves me, despite my sins and flaws. I know that it is God's grace that enables me to live and love better than I would otherwise be capable, that offers me forgiveness and a chance to try again when I fail, and that encircles and infuses my relationships with that same love and grace. I know these things with my mind--but I all too often forget them with my heart. Which means that, instead of trusting God and the grace, love and mercy he wants to shower me with daily, I instead turn to fear and worry--especially in my other relationships. And in turn, I lose sight of the fact that friendships by definition require more than just one person--more than just myself. Simply because I have called people friends, the chances are far better than I give them credit for that they feel about me the same way I feel about them.
I just tend to forget that part. Despite the fact that I am always reminded of its truth. Like this past Sunday, when I finally gathered my things after church and walked up to catch my friend. I hesitated, then tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around, saw me, and we both just beamed. Big hugs were shared, introductions made to her wee man, and quick catch ups on life were exchanged. It was so great, for both of us, I think. Life moves on, people come and go--but real friendships do stand the test of time. I know that, and Sunday reminded me, yet again, to believe it.
I can't assure you that I won't still struggle with this. I can't promise that I'll not be nervous about seeing you again after a long absence. I can't even be sure that I'll be any better about keeping in touch--especially about getting back in touch, when I've been out of touch for so long. But I can assure you that it's because I care about you and think so highly of your friendship that I am hesitant, as stupid as that undoubtedly is. I can promise that I'll try, and that I will make a concerted effort to get back in touch (through email, phone calls or letters). Because I do miss you, my friends. I'm just fighting the fear.